About the artist
Victoria Abad Kerblat is a Filipino-French artist from a deeply rooted family in Batanes region, the most northern province of the Philippines.
As a trained biologist specialized in tropical medicine, she left her native country in 1979 to work first in refugee camps in Thailand, where she met her husband Bernard Kerblat. She then worked, travelled and lived in three different continents: Asia, Africa and Europe from 1979 to 1996.
She currently lives in Divonne-Les-Bain and is actively involved in the various art projects initiated by Fundacion Pacita in Batanes, in order to perpetuate the legacy of her sister Pacita Abad a renowned international artist. The latter encouraged her to pursue a career in art.
Over time, Victoria took art classes in Thailand, France and Switzerland.
Her career as a painter grew when she moved to France, near the Swiss border in Geneva.
In France, the grandmother, Paulette Blanchenay (Bernard's grandmother), artist-painter, had a considerable influence by introducing her to watercolour.
About her style
Her paintings are characterized by a constant evolution of the styles and patterns used. It began with portraits of refugees from the hill tribes in Laos and was then strongly influenced by the warm colours of South Africa, its cultural richness and its exotic landscapes.
After exhibiting in many countries, she explored and experimented with different types of arts and techniques. This is how she integrated various Asian materials such as asian textiles, banana fibres, gold leaf integrated in the painting with natural pigments
Victoria now uses recycled materials in her painting in hope of educating future generations about sustainability.
Interview with ELLE Suisse
Victoria Abad Kerblat: Paintings like windows open on a personal journey.
How did you start painting?
I have always been drawn to the arts, but when I was young, being an artist was not considered a job in the Philippines. I became a biologist! I got a scholarship in a University at Boston to do my master's degree in biology, but when I went there, I stopped in Bangkok to see the exhibition of my sister Pacita and I never went to the States -United. It was 1979, there was the war in Vietnam, and finally, I went to work in the refugee camps. Biologists specialized in tropical diseases were needed. My husband also works in the humanitarian field, we lived successively in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mozambique, Pakistan, Vietnam. I started to paint without any formal training. It was my way of capturing the suffering of the refugees.
You design your painting as a testimony ...
Yes, in part. Refugees influenced me very much in my early days - I found their courage extraordinary in this environment of violence - but I also painted watercolors in old colonial houses when I was in Mozambique. I had campaigned so that they would preserve old historical building and houses. That said, it is true that some of my paintings carry a message or a question mark. I think, for example, of my painting 'Where do I belong?' When I was in Mozambique, I found myself in a universe where the skin color was a cursor on a ladder defining the degree of oppression. I wanted to convey the stress, the fear and the misunderstanding that one feels in such a situation.
Are there topics you do not like to paint?
Flowers, cats ... This kind of painting bores me! In fact, I am inspired by everything around me, people, my travels, exhibitions that I visit ... When I make a portrait, I like to know the person. In recent years, the Philippines has become one of my main sources of inspiration. In my painting, Ivatan, the subject is a woman from Batanes, the northernmost region of the country. In her hair, I painted Ivatan words and phrases. Her body signifies the different villages in Batanes.
In your latest works, you seem to be working more on textures ...
I stayed in oil painting, but I incorporate into my paintings materials that are now disappearing. I mainly use materials from the Philippines and Asia, such as rice paper, banana fibres, fabrics, natural pigments... I also try to draw the attention of young people to the beauty that we can get from recycled materials because this concept is not yet widespread in the Philippines.
Interviewed by Odile Habel